Food Coma: The Truth About Turkey and Tryptophan


celebration-315079_1280
By Shanley Pierce | November 1, 2016

Many Americans partake in the annual Thanksgiving tradition of stuffing their faces with turkey and trimmings and then parking on the sofa to sleep off the inevitable food coma.

Turkey is packed with tryptophan and is usually blamed for the drowsiness we experience after consuming a massive Thanksgiving meal. But contrary to popular knowledge, plenty of other food is loaded with tryptophan, too.

“Turkeys get a bad rap,” said Jeanne Piga-Plunkett, registered dietitian and co-coordinator of the Dietetic Internship Program at The University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health. “They have high levels of tryptophan, but so do nuts, soy beans, cheese, lamb, beef, pork and chicken.”

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and the key ingredient in making serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for elevating and balancing people’s moods. When tryptophan synthesizes serotonin, the chemical reaction produces the hormone melatonin, which regulates people’s sleep patterns.

But consuming tryptophan alone doesn’t cause sleepiness. It’s the combination of tryptophan and carbohydrates in large amounts.

“During Thanksgiving, people eat 300 to 400 grams of protein without hesitation,” said Nicolaas Deutz, a nutrition expert and director of Texas A&M’s Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity. “That’s a huge amount of tryptophan and way higher than what people normally consume, so the body has to deal with that. On top of that, there’s a lot of carbs eaten on that day.”

When people gobble down their meals, the digestive system breaks down simple carbohydrates—like those found in mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie—into sugar that enters the bloodstream. Elevated blood sugar stimulates the production of insulin, which helps clear the way for tryptophan to travel from the bloodstream to the brain.

Tryptophan is akin to the solitary passenger in the overcrowded TSA line at the airport the day before Thanksgiving. Large families, wrangling luggage and children, are the other more abundant amino acids, pushing and shoving to get through the same packed checkpoint. Insulin acts as the TSA pre-check that allows those large families of amino acids to breeze through security. By diverting the TSA pre-check passengers, airport congestion is alleviated and the tryptophan passenger can travel more easily to the designated gate.

Behavior also plays a role in the Thanksgiving food coma.

People often ignore the internal cues that tell them to eat earlier in the day because they’re anticipating a delicious Thanksgiving feast, Piga-Plunkett said.

“Thanksgiving tends to lead to overindulgence,” she added. “We give ourselves permission to eat and celebrate. This is a special time.”

By the time people sit down at the dinner table, they’re hungry and wolf down plates of food. The brain takes approximately 20 minutes to register that the stomach is full, but people often eat so quickly that the brain doesn’t have enough time to tell the body it’s satiated. So the body powers down into “rest and digest” mode.

To prevent Thanksgiving lethargy, Piga-Plunkett recommends eating slowly and consuming smaller portions.


Food Loaded with TryptophanMilligrams
Whole Milk (per quart)732
2% Milk (per quart)551
Canned Tuna (per ounce)472
Turkey, Skinless, Boneless, Light Meat (per pound, raw)410
Chicken, Skinless, Boneless, Light Meat (per pound, raw)238
Oats for Oatmeal (per cup)147

 




Social Posts

profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Boris A. Stern, who fought at the Battle of the Bulge and Battle of the Rhineland during World War II: https://t.co/4GVemb8y4p

39 mins ago
profile_image

Texas Children's

@TexasChildrens

Dr. Lisa Gaw, pediatrician and director at Texas Children’s Urgent Care Westgate, weighs in via @austin360: https://t.co/krYY7O3tuR

45 mins ago
profile_image

Texas Children's

@TexasChildrens

RT @austin360: The holidays are upon us, and so is the increased eating and the risk of choking. Make sure you know what to do ⤵ https://t.…

45 mins ago
profile_image

Texas Children's

@TexasChildrens

RT @LinaHidalgoTX: Today I toured the Texas Children’s Hospital @TexasChildrens to learn about the incredible work that they do. The amazin…

57 mins ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

How is your social media habits effecting your kids? Dr. Laurel Williams explains. https://t.co/04xUcmpG93 #socialmedia #mentalhealth

1 hour ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

RT @ARosen380: True honor and privilege to present today on our work in Colorectal Cancer Outreach and education at @BCMCancerCenter at @NC…

1 hour ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

RT @BCMCancerCenter: Did you know today is World Pancreatic Cancer Day? Learn more about our clinical trials for this disease. https://t.co…

1 hour ago
profile_image

TexasHeartInstitute

@Texas_Heart

Do economic factors contribute to heart disease death rates? A preliminary study says heart disease deaths increased in counties hit hard by the 2008-09 recession. https://t.co/TkD0lBZn0z via @UPI

2 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

“Don’t delay seeing a doctor if you think something’s wrong. You know your body better than anyone else,” says Herman Connor, a #kidneycancer survivor: https://t.co/O3s3i59PMl #endcancer https://t.co/pmH1LDTmGT

2 hours ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

We are excited to announce a virtual tour that will allow you to explore campus like never before. Check it out now on our homepage or the UH Go Mobile App. #GoCoogs! https://t.co/MfuoO4vMB8

2 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

@wfpinky @cher @benatargiraldo Safe travels, Marissa.

2 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

RT @RiceUNews: We can’t yet build with unlimited piles of diamond, no. But @RiceUniversity researchers have figured out the next best thing…

2 hours ago
profile_image

Harris Health System

@harrishealth

More than 34 million Americans smoke, and smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year. Make the decision to quit smoking today! #GreatAmericanSmokeouthttps://t.co/n4c7C3vqTp https://t.co/ebXcuhTouS

3 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

The Great American Smokeout is here! Learn more about how you can launch your quit journey with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Whether you try the gum, patch, or lozenge, NRT will help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings: https://t.co/YmgAt7GVL6 #BetterStartsToday https://t.co/fSYAxrBqhc

3 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

“To be on the road to recovery today is truly miraculous,” says stage IV #pancreaticcancer survivor Allison Lippman-Kuban.Read how she found success through genetic testing and a targeted therapy clinical trial: https://t.co/A5zCa76nRe #WPCD #CancerMoonshot #endcancer

3 hours ago